Sonic Adventure 2: Legend or Downfall?
Live & Learn!
The Sega Dreamcast was legendary for a lot of different reasons. It had a built-in modem with a browser disc, the very first 3D Sonic platformer, graphics that were easily (4-5x) more advanced than anything seen before it & of course the VMU (Visual Memory Unit). The system's last commercial bang came in the form of Sonic Adventure 2, one of the last major titles released after the discontinuation of the console. So, did the DC go out with a fizzle? a bang? or a sonic boom? Read on.
SA2 picks up (loosely) where Sonic Adventure left off. Sonic is escaping from the G.U.N. military sector. After sky diving from a helicopter, the hedgehog escapes in the city. He is eventually intercepted by an advanced-class assault unit. After making quick work of the distraction, Sonic encounters a dark hedgehog wielding a green Chaos Emerald. Using Chaos Control, Shadow confuses Sonic with speeds that rival his own. Baffled, Sonic is caught off-guard by a military defensive perimeter & is forced to surrender. He is escorted to Prison Island, a fitting cage for a super-powered hedgehog with no ability to swim.
In other parts of the world, a confrontation with Rouge the Bat is interrupted by Eggman attempting to steal the Master Emerald from its guardian, Knuckles the Echidna. Learning from the events of SA1, Knuckles shatters the precious jewel before Eggman can escape with it. He plans on recovering the pieces in order to restore it. Rouge, being a major jewel thief, sets out with the same goal in mind.
After the events are publicly broadcast, Tails "Miles" Prower sets out in an attempt to free Sonic and clear his name. Tails is intercepted by Dr. Ivo "Eggman" Robotnik. The two mech-warriors enter battle, with Eggman eventually forfeiting (presumably due to time constraints) and fleeing the scene. Tails is surprised to meet up with Amy (how on earth did she get there in the first place?) with a key-card to Sonic's cell (again, how & when did she acquire this?). Tails moves on to the enter Prison Lane, clearing a path for Amy. When she finally meets up with her love interest, Amy attempts to blackmail Sonic into marrying her. He refuses, but she frees him regardless.
Sonic races through Metal Harbor, acquiring the Light-Speed shoes in the process. Sonic is side-tracked by the appearance of Shadow, entering a confrontational dialogue that ends in a heated skirmish of blurs. Eggman interrupts the fight with a reminder of the impending destruction of the island. Shadow departs, leaving Sonic flabbergasted & now with very little time to escape. Sonic eventually rejoins Tails & flees the island, leaving behind a trail of explosions.
Knuckles continues his quest for the pieces of the Master Emerald in Pumpkin hill, acquiring the Shovel Claw. Eggman broadcasts a live, international "doomsday" threat to the world, capturing the attention of Sonic & Tails. Tails, having been awarded with a yellow Chaos Emerald for saving Station Square from the bombing-disaster in SA1, realizes that Eggman must be after these gems as a part of his world-domination scheme. He also realizes that the Chaos Emerald effectively provides the team with a bargaining chip for dealing with the Doctor. The problem is, Eggman's base is in an unknown location. Tails sets off in the streets, discovering the Jet Booster, to find the President in order to track Eggman's radio-signal.
After learning that Eggman is hiding in a pyramid in an Egypt-like region of the world, Tails clears a path to the entrance. Sonic races ahead to scout out/eliminate danger (uncovering the Bounce Bracelet), but is halted by a security door requiring a key-lock combination. Sonic orders the master treasure hunter, Knuckles, to find the keys. Knuckles is forced to use the Hammer Gloves to break through the heavily guarded defensive line of Death Chamber. After finding the keys, a ghost attacks Knuckles, but is defeated through sun-light. Sonic & the rest of the crew rejoin with Knuckles as they enter the center of the base. Eggman awaits the arrival of the heroes with his Egg Golem ready to attack. Sonic makes quick work of the rocky giant, and the rest of the team follows his lead. They all escape the base, presumably set to self-destruct, by entering a space-ship and launching into space towards the Ark, Eggman's true hideout.
Tails comes up with a plan to duplicate the Chaos Emerald on hand, allowing for the team to effectively sabotage the Ark cannon with a toxic emerald interaction. However, the fake emerald ends up creating its own distinctive signal which is later detected by Eggman. Realizing that there are two emerald signals in range, and the cannon already held six of the seven Chaos gems, Eggman begins to speculate that he is in danger of being tricked. After Tails makes his way through the trenches of the colony, finding the Bazooka cannon upgrade, he makes his way to find Amy & confront Eggman. But instead, Eggman captures Amy as a hostage, and uses her as bait to lure Sonic (who is in possession of the fake Chaos Emerald) directly towards him. Running through Eggman's space labyrinth, Sonic encounters the flame ring, and blazes towards the center of the Ark. Sonic realizes that he could save time by handing over his emerald to the doctor, while simultaneously securing Amy from danger.
Eggman attempts to diffuse any potential threats to his plan by trapping Sonic & delivering an ultimatum: Hand over the authentic Chaos Emerald or perish. Tails haphazardly questions the doctor's method of the secondary emerald discovery, validating Eggman's previous apprehensions regarding the two emerald signals. Eggman sends Sonic off into space, in a capsule designed to explode after reaching a safe distance. Sonic, running out of time & options, resorts to using the fake emerald to cause Chaos Control. In some sort of twist of fate, Sonic is transported somewhere in the colony outskirts. He asks Knuckles to assist the others while he makes a final sprint towards the cannon to prevent the scheduled launch on earth.
Along the way, Shadow intercepts Sonic on the final strip towards the cannon. The two hedgehogs use speed, guts & Chaos Control in one final showdown. Sonic manages to out-pace Shadow, and prevents the launch of the Eclipse Cannon. The story ends with Tails, having defeated Eggman, mourning the loss of his friend. Sonic radio buzzes Tails, informing him that the mission was a success. A wimpering Eggman crawls away with the final Chaos Emerald (without alerting Tails). The world has been saved and the heroes are in peace, right?
The story also contains a Dark campaign along with a Last story. The Dark story is nearly identical to the Hero story, except it is delivered from the perspective of the games villains: Eggman, Shadow & Rouge. I won't spoil the Last story for those who haven't completed it, but it is very EPIC.
The Verdict: Sonic Adventure 2: in my opinion, is the superior Adventure title. I enjoyed SA1, but it had a lot of problems that make it more difficult to want to go back and re-play. Firstly, the Action levels in the first game where interrupted (frequently) with the three hub worlds: Station Square, Mystic Ruins & Egg Carrier. These really hurt the pace of the game and weren't designed very well. You also can't skip cut-scenes in the original game on the Dreamcast. The final nail-in the coffin that prevented it from being a superior experience was the inclusion of Big the Cat. I mean, WTF?! He's literally the slowest character in the game, has absolutely nothing to add to the story, and his game play centers around sitting in one spot while luring fish to your rod. The last problem I encountered with the first game was the mediocre frame-rate & frequent clipping issues with animations & camera function. SA2 fixed a lot of these problems. Levels are interrupted only by the occasional boss encounter or (optional) Chao Garden visit. The game runs at a consistently smooth 60 FPS. The only noticeable slow-down occurred randomly in the Chao Garden, and plagued the game's entire multiplayer mode slowing down to 30 FPS or even lower in many cases. This is a minor complaint, considering that all three single-player campaigns are fast & consistent.
There are NO fishing levels present in this game, which is fortunate. You have three play styles spread across six-different characters. Sonic & Shadow have the speed-running stages, which are more linear with enemy patterns & object placement that is often helpful in maintaining momentum. Tails & Eggman share the shooting levels, which are (for the most part) still relatively linear, but often contain alternate paths or more open-ended hovering segments. These levels tend to be much more chaotic, with random enemy patterns and instances in which enemies instantly drop on you or disappear. Knuckles & Rouge both have the infamous treasure-hunting levels, in which the goal is to locate and acquire three items (shards, keys, or emeralds). These levels are much more open-ended, encouraging exploration & thought. The problem is that because of the more expansive nature of SA2's levels, the hunting stages tend to be exhausting in their scope. Amplifying this is the fact that Sonic Team altered the mechanics of treasure-hunting that worked fine in SA1.
Instead of retaining the radar system from the previous game, SA2 thought that players with ADD wouldn't be able to keep up with three indicators blinking all at once. Instead, the player is forced to focus on finding each emerald separately. My theory on why they did this was due to the new hint system that was implemented this time around. In the hunting levels, there are various floating computer monitors spread across the stage. A player can press the action button near one of these monitors in order to display a message with a clue as to the emerald shard's whereabouts. I think what they did was limit the radar to one emerald at a time so the player wouldn't get conflicting hints to an emerald's location.. so for instance, if the player gets a hint from one monitor indicating that the emerald is in the air, then gets another hint indicating that the shard is located beneath the ground, the player could become confused since one hint was meant for one particular shard while the second hint was for another shard in an entirely different area. So, I think the developers were actually trying to help the player in this regard, but I just think it ended up back-firing. The monitor hints aren't very helpful to begin with, unless you've already familiarized yourself with the level. There are instances in which you may be right in front of a treasure, with no indication of this through the radar.
But, even with these problems, the game play in SA2 is far more consistent & fluid when compared to SA1. The power-ups return in this game with a fury. Every single level contains one power-up (though not all of them are necessary to complete the game). This encourages exploration, which is really cool. After you've acquired all of the power ups, the player can re-enter completed levels and take alternate paths or do certain things that weren't previously possible. This is incredible game design. Not only are the power-ups essential to complete the main story, but they also encourage replay/exploration for optional upgrades & alternate operations in existing levels. In fact, to complete the game 100% with all 180 emblems, you will be required to find nearly every single upgrade in the game due to the 3rd & 5th objectives in each level often requiring a specific power-up(s) in order for the player to complete the challenge.
Now to tackle another part of the game that often gets a lot of criticism. Tails in his mech-walker. I honestly don't see why so many people are turned-off by this. I mean, yeah Tails has the defining characteristic of flight, but we were already able to experience this in the last game. Tails is a nerd, a mechanical guru with technical prowess rivaling Eggman's. It makes sense that in a game where the military is chasing Sonic, islands are exploding, and the Earth is being threatened with a one-shot kill from space, running around with only your two tails behind you isn't the most practical way to survive.
The only other complaint I will mention is the misconception that in order to complete the final story, the player must locate and acquire the Air Necklace upgrade for Knuckles. This is false. This upgrade is not required to complete the last story. It certainly makes it a little easier, but it's absolutely not essential to finish the game. There are plenty of air pockets in the under water sequences to sustain Knuckles during his segment of the final story-arc. At least you aren't hunting for treasure this time around.
So, my final thought on this game? Amazing. Nothing short of a well-spent $50 back in the day. The game took all of the things from Sonic Adventure and improved on it, while taking out elements that bogged-down the pace in that game. Some blame this game as being the turning point of the franchise, but I have to disagree on this point. This was the last really well-made Sonic game. After the Dreamcast, Sega's quality in general began to deteriorate. If games like Sonic Heroes, Virtual-On: Marz & Crazy Taxi 3 had been released on the Dreamcast, they probably would have performed substantially better than they ended up doing on other platforms.